WILLIAM BRANGHAM, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The Islamic terrorist group known as Boko Haram gained global infamy for kidnapping close to 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria in 2014. But the group has also kidnapped more than 10,000 boys over the past three years, according to Human Rights Watch. What happens to these boys — including Boko Haram’s efforts to convert them into soldiers — is the subject of an article this week co-written by “Wall Street Journal” reporter Drew Hinshaw, who joins me now.
Before we get into your reporting, help us understand what is Boko Haram doing and what do they want and how long have they been waging this insurgency in Nigeria and elsewhere?
DREW HINSHAW, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Sure. Since 2009, Boko Haram has been waging a really scorched earth violent campaign to topple Nigeria’s government, create an Islamist state in the northeast of Nigeria, chase away soldiers and generally attack people who don’t subscribe to their ultraviolent ideology.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Your reporting detailed how Boko Haram has been kidnapping thousands of these boys. And you spoke to about a dozen or so who escaped Boko Haram. What did they tell you about their experience?
DREW HINSHAW: Well, I think they’re all shaken by it, understandably. The most kind of astonishing aspect of it is that a lot of them at 12, 15 years old, were responsible for raising children who were even younger than them. I mean, in some cases — in one case, we talked to — he was 10 years old at the time who helped raised infant, toddlers, essentially to be jihadists. So, you have in these kind of encampments, children raising children to be terrorist.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Why is Boko Haram taking these kid? What do they want to use them for?
DREW HINSHAW: One boy I talked to who is in the story, kind of put it succinctly, Boko Haram, they expect to be martyrs. Many of the adults are expected to die in battle and they expect to achieve martyrdom, and they’re looking for a new generation to keep their project going after they die in battle.
And I would add that in some ways, they are successful with some of these boys. Obviously, the ones we talked to are the ones that escaped, the ones who said we’ve had enough.
But all of them, without exception, said that if you go to those camps, most of people there are genuine believers and they’re really converted.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But Boko Haram is the one doing the conversion. These kids don’t come to them as radicals, correct?
DREW HINSHAW: They don’t — even if they’re coming as radicals, they have no idea what they’re doing. They’re victims as much as they’re perpetrators. Some of them are guilty of heinous things — rape, murder, killing– all kinds of horrible things. And yet, they’re also victims. They’re also kids plucked out of villages forced into a cult, forced to watch beheadings, with all kinds of indoctrination, beaten, starved, and at some point, they convert.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We have seen the use of child soldiers in the past. Is it — what is different about this? Is it the scale of the problem here?
DREW HINSHAW: You have here a situation where you can’t go talk to Boko Haram. In the civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it’s starting to give you, a researcher with Human Rights Watch told me that, you know, she went into Guinea and spoke to some of the people and said, “Hey, look, if you don’t knock this off, if you don’t stop recruiting children, one day, you could face a war crimes trial.” And it worked.
You know, a U.N. envoy can’t go into rural northeastern Nigeria and sit down with the leader of Boko Haram and say, what you’re doing is wrong according to these rules. You can’t immobilize them.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right. Drew Hinshaw of The Wall Street Journal — thank you so much for this.
DREW HINSHAW: Thank you, too.